Thursday, February 23, 2012

Old or Young Wines First?

The other night I had dinner with 7 other people in Manhattan, a dinner featuring 12 vintages of Marcarini Barolo Brunate. Three wines each from the 60's, 70's, 80's, two wines from the 90's, and the 2007. I had never before had such a broad array of Barolo vintages in one night. It was amazing to experience the evolution of such finely pedigreed Nebbiolo, to feel the changes as it gets older.

We drank the oldest wines first, and ended with the 1990, the 1996, and the 2007. We began with the flight from the 60's - the 1964, 1967, and 1969. There was some discussion at the table - is this the right way to do it? Some felt that we should have started with the young wines.

I appreciated drinking the oldest wines first, in that I was as sharp as a taster as I would be that evening, and perhaps best able to appreciate the fine subtlety of the grand old wines. Or maybe I should say, the young wine tannins hadn't yet affected my mouth. That said, when we got to the 80's flight (1982, 1985, and 1989), the wines seemed very young, nowhere near as thrilling as their older cousins. Perhaps a great 1982 served after a great 1964 just cannot shine as brightly as it would on its own.

This is not the first time I've gone oldest to youngest in the past few months. Not long ago at a Noel Verset dinner, we began with the older wines. I'm not sure how I feel about this yet (although clearly I would drink these wines in any order and enjoy them).

And at my Burgundy Wine Club dinner, I decided to put the flight of Comte Armand Clos des Epeneaux (1989, 1991, and 1993) before the de Montille Pommard Rugiens flight (1998, 1999). My thinking was that the younger brawnier more tannic de Montille wines, if served first, would obliterate the Comte Armand wines.

Curious to see if anyone has an opinion they'd be willing to share on this.


the zinfidel said...

I have been through a few epic tasting, though maybe less than you, and I often think about the issue of youngest to oldest or oldest to youngest. I certainly think the field is divided. But I would say that youngest to oldest is the proven route. One may experience the oldest wines first, and so being, with more clarity, but then where does one go from there? Presuming that the older wines are more delicate, graceful, telling, etc. So while the fruit, tannins, power, youth, etc. may shade the older wines which follow, it has been my experience that this is the best course. And though the palate my be a bit fatigued and ones senses may be a bit loose, is this a bad thing. Think of it like travel to Europe where you are speaking in your non native tongue. Let's say Spain. You are jet lagged, fatigued, and maybe you have had a couple sherries, or tintos, and your tongue is loose, and your Spanish is better. Perhaps you are in a place to appreciate the culture better, the language, and you are a bit less inhibited, a bit less cerebral. Not sure my point is getting through here, but I hope it is. Think of the contexts of which I speak, relate that to trying wines youngest to oldest and then just let go.

Alfonso Cevola said...

I dont recall the "rule" but in this case I would have done the same as you did. looked marvelous . insert *jealousy* here

Ith said...

What I always do is pour them all together, no not in one glass. With such a large quantity of wines you need a very big table but it is the most interesting way. Especially funny things can happen when someone misplaces a glass, urm.. was that 86 or the 89 or the 92? Keeps you on your toes and will make clear that humans are not very good at tasting ;-) Give it a try.

Do Bianchi said...

my goodness, "envy" doesn't even begin to describe it... with 1000% on older to new (and pouring right to left, the same way we read Hebrew).

vinosseur said...


Nice post. when I was a young boy I always tended to eat the things on the plate, saving the best bites for last. But now that I am older, I prefer to taste my favorite bites first. My palate is more sensitive to flavors, and let's face it, I don't want to be full when I get to my favorite bites
The same can be said about wine. I prefer to begin with the more interesting, older vintages. a fresh clean palate and more importantly, a fresh clean head.. I prefer to save the younger, most likely still available in the market, wines for last knowing well that at the point I may have already begun to loose focus.. and perhaps even my footing ;)

Giacomo said...

I was at a massive Marchesi di Gresy tasting in SF a few weeks ago (organized by The Rare Wine Co). It went from young to old. I hind slight I reckon I would have liked to taste the old ones first. By the time we got to the really good stuff - 80s and earlier, my brain was too foggy to really appreciate it. All I could write on the pad was "good, really deep stuff."

For any tasting like that, what's really important at the end of the day is how the old/peaking wines are tasting. So yeah, I think old first makes more sense.